I have peppered of few of my holiday snap shots in here with this post. Aside from doing cool stuff, one thing I always eagerly anticipate over a holiday period is more discretionary reading time and thinking time. I was lucky enough to get through a few books this past break (long haul flights help). It seemed no matter what I read and where I looked – some common threads of thinking kept recurring. I couldn’t help but put these into the context of where we are at as a design studio, our achievements these past few years and the aspirations we have for the future of Isthmus.
The modern day philosopher and thinker, Theodore Zeldin, argues that if we want to be innovative with our ideas and imagine a new future that is not simply an extension of the past then we need to understand the past in a new way also. Apparently our memories are formed in the same part of the brain where we think about the future and ideas. All this interested me as I thought about new ways of formulating ideas and innovating in the way we work, communicate and design. If the past can have more of an influence on the future than we might imagine, do we then re-imagine a relationship between past and future.
This will be different for everyone but from a personal perspective I decided to formulate a series of propositions:
1 – Memories are important and if we can combine memories in new ways there is a chance that they could change how we think about the future.
The sharper our visual memories the more the future has a visual shape.
Zeldin argues: “Memory is therefore not only about the past; it provides the building blocks from which the future is constructed. The narrower the range of memories one has, the less one is likely to have broad and original ideas about the future”.
From a Maori perspective time is seen as a natural force (like wind or water) that moves around you. You are not the one journeying through time, you remain still and time flows past you eventually leaving you behind. In that way you see your past before you as it passes you by – and the future is sneaking up from behind.
Perhaps if we juxtapose people, places and ideas from different centuries and backgrounds we might find new answers to the problems we grapple with today.
2 – Feeding your memory is as important as feeding your body.
Personal experiences are not enough and should be supplemented by vicarious memories we acquire from others, whether through conversation, reading, writing, visual media/arts etc. With poor memories we cannot imagine where we could be going next, apart from the places we have already been. Constructing and recording a richness of past personal experiences and facts thus becomes important. It is also interesting that of the 3 original muses in Greek Mythology – Mneme – represented the art of memory.
3 – The existence of memories is important, but what matters more is the relationship between them.
The French mathematician Henri Poincare (1854-1912), lauded intuition, by which he meant not guess work, but the ability to unit elements/facts well known but till then scattered and foreign to each other. The value, he argued, of an observation comes from its giving new value to old facts it unites. To do this he took an interest in almost everything because nothing was necessarily irrelevant. He argued the best training for a scientist was in the humanities. His favoured reading was of exploration and travel and when telling a story he seldom started at the beginning – his mind did not work in a straight line.
Poincare also valued incompatibilities, disagreements and uncertainties and argued that if you break up reality into fragments of truth and illusion it opens the door to invention. In fact when you think about it the majority of disagreements are about the past or the future – what did or did not happen or what could or should happen. If we shuffle the cards of what we remember, forget and anticipate we might hope, argue or create in a new way.
There are of course many forms of creative expression; music, drama, stories, poetry, philosophy, history, travelogues, lectures, art, dance etc. I am of the view that if we continue to have an interest in everything and find ways to make rich memories (good and bad), our no-boundaries philosophy will take on new meaning, have the potential to tap ever-richer seams of creativity and we will be booking a lot more tickets to Berlin.
That past year was challenging for us all in our own ways and for the reasons we already know – we lived through it, but seldom have I personally been so excited about the future given the foundations we have laid the past few years.